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Women cross-border traders to smile again after months of inactivity

By Faridah Kulabako

Added 29th July 2020 05:39 PM

About 80% of informal cross-border trade is done by women who rely on it as their sole source of income.

Women cross-border traders to smile again after months of inactivity

Matsaert (left) and Mordue during a media interview following the handover of Personal Protective Equipment to Busia Frontline staff. Courtesy photo

About 80% of informal cross-border trade is done by women who rely on it as their sole source of income.

BUSINESS | COVID-19

Busia women cross-border traders may resume trade after months of inactivity following the European Union's (EU) announcement that it had secured €100,000 (sh421.14m) to establish a Safe Trade Zone for them.

The EU Ambassador to Kenya, Simon Mordue, made the announcement during a visit to the Busia One-Stop Border Post (OSBP).

The EU, in partnership with Trade Mark East Africa (TMEA), gave Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to the border authorities of Uganda and Kenya.

Mordue said EU had received a €100,000 grant from Ireland for the establishment of a Safe Trade Zone for female cross-border traders in Busia.

Mariam Babu, the Busia women cross-border traders' chairperson, said the outbreak of COVID-19 had stalled informal cross-border trade, robbing millions of women of their livelihoods.

About 80% of informal cross-border trade is done by women who rely on it as their sole source of income.

Mordue said while millions of livelihoods and jobs depend on trade, it must be conducted in a safe environment, especially during this COVID-19 crisis.

The delivered PPEs cover the needs of customs, immigration, security and port health officials on both sides of the border for three months.

According to Mordue, the PPE donation is part of the EU's wider support for mitigation measures against the spread of COVID-19 and continuous safe trade in Kenya and across all its borders.

He noted that the government agents working at the frontline are essential to the cross-border flow of goods and need to be properly protected.

"Given the vulnerability and exposure of the frontline workers to the virus, protection of all border personnel is paramount in ensuring they work in safe and optimal working conditions so that trade continues uninterrupted," Mordue said.

He said the PPEs that were handed over to the Joint Border Management Committee would strengthen both Uganda and Kenyan governments' measures of making borders safe and open for trade.

Disruptions

The COVID-19 outbreak has caused trade disruptions globally as countries implemented measures to contain the spread, including enforcing mandatory testing of truck drivers at border points before being allowed into a partner state's territory.

However, border points have been grappling with shortages of PPE for frontline staff, resulting in border officials contracting the disease.

Inadequate or no PPEs for frontline officers, for port health and security personnel, is said to be causing delays in border clearance processes, especially at Busia and Malaba, where long traffic queues have been witnessed.

The Uganda Revenue Authority commissioner of customs, Abel Kagumire, applauded TMEA and the development partners for regular supply of protective gear, which has enabled trade to continue flowing.

He, however, noted that cross-border trade here and revenue declined, owing to the effects of COVID-19.

"Our truck drivers have been facing a lot of delays in adopting the new requirements and guidelines, but I thank the permanent secretaries and ministers of Uganda and Kenya, who came up with clear guidelines to guide cargo movement.

"Ever since the pandemic broke out, we have never had issues with cargo failing to cross the border, despite a few delays at the border as drivers wait for test results," Kagumire said.

He, however, appealed to donors to support customs with CCTV cameras to enhance security at the border post, more testing booths to expedite COVID-19 testing and also put up a waiting bay for visitors, passengers and truck drivers who have to wait for their test results.

Pre-test

To smoothen trade flow during this season, Mordue said development partners are funding the development of an East Africa community tracking Application (App), which will allow truck drivers and customs authorities to log into the system to verify one's COVID-19 certificate.

Truck drivers will be expected to pre-test before arriving at the border and have the COVID-19 negative certificate uploaded so that border officials simply verify the certificate on their system, instead of the current testing on arrival, which leads to longer waiting periods, causing congestion at the border.

Expected in the next two weeks, the App, it is hoped, will help reduce the long queues people have been putting up with before being cleared.

Kagumire noted that they are exploring the possibility of interlinking the COVID-19 results database between partner states for efficient validation of test results by each member state.

TMEA chief executive officer Frank Matsaert expressed concern over the collapse of people's livelihoods and trade over the COVID-19 pandemic.

Matsaert, however, noted that TMEA is committed to supporting the border authorities and users to ensure medical compliant trade between adjoining states and the region.

He alluded to how critical the support is in facilitating the safe continuation of trading activities and, especially, protecting livelihoods.

The governments of the Netherlands, Denmark and Finland also support TMEA activities across East Africa.

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